“That was part of being a girl – you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.”
The Girls follows the ennui-filled life of 14-year-old Evie Boyd in the summer of 1969. Evie is neglected by her recently-divorced mother, and her father is too engrossed by his new mistress to devote any time to his daughter. Spending her days envying other girls and wandering around lost, she is completely enraptured by a new girl she meets, Suzanne, who is bohemian, care-free, and utterly unlike the Country Club boarding school set she’s known her entire life.
Suzanne practically kidnaps Evie while Evie is stranded on the side of the road with a broken bicycle. Evie is captivated with Suzanne’s lifestyle, and the other girls in the van, who speak of the god-like Russell and life at the Ranch, a compound in the middle of nowhere where they all live together and share each other’s clothes. Evie is blind to the brainwashing, oblivious to the dirt and starvation. All she sees is the wonderment of “love,” the friendships and acceptance, and the hypnotizing ways of Russell and those who only want to please him. The insecurities of adolescence make Evie susceptible to the seduction of the Ranch, and to Russell’s hold on everyone. At one point, Evie brings a new outsider to visit the Ranch, and doesn’t understand his revulsion at the poverty and complacency of the girls.
This story mirrors the cult of Charles Manson in the 1960s, but also presents the reader with an explanation as to how those who followed him could get sucked into the vortex of his control. The anguish of adolescence, the yearning for acceptance and desire to be desired, are what Evie wants above all else. She also falls prey to the fixation she has on Suzanne, a crushing obsession only teenagers experience. Murder is alluded to from the beginning, so no spoilers there. The reader knows it’s coming, but not to what extent.
Cline’s writing is adroit and spot-on. She doesn’t dwell on descriptions, but instead offers tiny glimpses of appearance that give the reader and overall picture quickly and specifically: the gravel ground into the knees of an unsupervised, dirty child at the Ranch; the shiny belt-buckle on the hippie, shirtless field hand; the split-ends and pitted fingernails of the cult girls. Evie is the girl on the outside, desperate to be on the inside, desperate to even be noticed.
This story was spellbinding. I highly recommend it.
Thanks to Netgalley, Emma Cline, and Random House for the advance copy in exchange for my honest review.